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Hocking, Albert Edward (1885–1969)

by B. J. Costar

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Albert Edward Hocking (1885-1969), political organizer and businessman, was born on 24 March 1885 at Carlton, Melbourne, second surviving child of Cornish parents Henry Hocking, miner and grocer, and his wife Lavinia, née Mitchell. Educated at Carlton North State School (dux 1898), he was obliged to leave at the age of 14 because his father had lost all his savings in the bank crash of the 1890s. Bert became a mail-boy in a farm-machinery company and studied accountancy at night. Ambitious and precocious, he criticized the financial management of the Carlton Cricket Club and, at 18, was appointed its treasurer; he later played in the first-grade team.

In 1907 Hocking qualified as an accountant and began his career as an independent businessman. Secretary (from 1912) of the Warburton Timber & Tramway Co. Pty Ltd, in 1915 he established the Cambridge Manufacturing Co. Ltd in partnership with his half-sister. His subsequent business interests were diverse, with sand-mining, farming and brass-manufacturing prominent. At St Paul's Anglican Church, Fairfield, on 24 November 1915 he married Eulalie Alethea Essery (d.1957); they eventually settled at Balwyn and were to have four children.

Elected to the Camberwell City Council in 1919, Hocking was defeated in 1922. He was re-elected next year and took office as Camberwell's youngest mayor (1923-25). A justice of the peace in 1923, he organized special constables during the police strike. In 1927 he was beaten by (Sir) Wilfrid Kent Hughes for Progressive Nationalist Party pre-selection for the seat of Kew in the Legislative Assembly. That year the Hockings moved to Toorak. Hocking owned two city properties by 1929, the year in which he stood unsuccessfully for the Melbourne City Council. He also owned orchards at Healesville, Monbulk and Tresco, and was president (1930-32) of the Fruit Growers and Cool Stores Association of Victoria.

Disillusioned with the deflationary economic and banking policies of the Nationalist Party, Hocking had joined the Victorian Country Party in 1929. He failed to win pre-selection for a Legislative Council province in 1931, but was elected next year to the United Country Party's central council where he dazzled his colleagues with his dynamism and organizing ability. Rising rapidly in the party (chief president 1933-35), he wielded considerable influence until 1943 and was chairman (1937-42) of the Countryman's board of management. During his presidency he stabilized party funds, and assisted farmers financially by reforming the party's bank-order membership scheme and securing an agreement with Federation Insurance Ltd.

Hocking had opposed the Country Party's participation in the Argyle ministry. Following the 1935 election, he engineered (Sir) Murray Bourchier's replacement as parliamentary leader by (Sir) Albert Dunstan and won acceptance for Tom Tunnecliffe's proposal that the Country Party form a minority administration, supported by the Australian Labor Party. Dunstan took office on 2 April 1935.

Despite a prickly personal manner, Hocking was popular among farmers and the party's rank and file due to his outspoken criticism of orthodox banking practice; one Federal member of the United Australia Party dubbed him 'the would-be bank wrecker'. Approving of Hocking's views on debt adjustment for farmers, Dunstan appointed him a commissioner of the State Savings Bank of Victoria in July 1935.

Throughout the 1930s Hocking was an indefatigable, if bombastic, publicist for the Country Party. He vigorously opposed those who formed the splinter Liberal Country Party in 1937 in protest at (Sir) John McEwen's expulsion from the party for joining the Lyons-Page Federal coalition. Hocking and McEwen were bitter enemies, but were later reconciled by their mutual friend (Sir) Arthur Fadden.

The political alliance between Hocking and Dunstan disintegrated in 1939 over a controversial pre-selection ballot involving the premier's son. Hocking blocked what he believed to be the unconstitutional method of Arthur Dunstan's selection, and an enraged premier passed special legislation removing Hocking from the board of the State Bank on a questionable legal pretext. The central issue at stake was the party organization's determination to direct the parliamentarians. Hocking and Dunstan were such dominant and combative figures that another major party schism seemed imminent.

'Artful' Albert Dunstan outmanoeuvred his opponent by calling an early State election for 16 March 1940, which the government won. Hocking unsuccessfully contested the difficult seat of Allandale, hoping to confront the premier from within the parliamentary party. At the party's State conference in April, Dunstan challenged the delegates either to expel him or 'stand behind the government'. Faced with this ultimatum, Hocking backed down. He was seared by the mauling.

As his companies won wartime contracts, Hocking became politically less active. He supported the reconciliation with the Liberal Country Party in 1943, but did not stand for central council in 1944. Resigning from the party in December 1948, he urged its members to join him in the new Liberal and Country Party to fight the threat of communism. Although he remained relatively quiescent in party politics in the 1950s and 1960s, he was embroiled, as a board-member, in a controversy surrounding the building and administration of a new hospital at Healesville.

Premier Tom Hollway had reappointed Hocking to the board of the State Bank on 31 August 1949; he served as chairman in 1957 and 1962. He was an attentive board-member, clashing with management over liquidity ratios and with the union over extended hours. Seeking to modernize what he regarded as an old-fashioned bank, he promoted the introduction of new technology. His term expired in 1963.

Hocking was an important figure in the Victorian Country Party throughout the 1930s, but his stubborn and dominating personality (McEwen once called him 'a dictator') was better suited to the world of business than to politics. He made enemies as readily as allies, and preferred issuing orders to negotiating political compromises. Hocking remained an active manager of his many business interests, especially Wm Bedford Ltd, and even began a new venture as a pastoralist at Deniliquin, New South Wales, in 1958. Survived by his two sons and two daughters, he died on 2 August 1969 at Armadale, Melbourne, and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $593,571.

Select Bibliography

  • R. V. Jackson and J. G. Crawford (eds), John McEwen (priv pub, Canb, 1983)
  • P. Hocking, Stormy Petrel (Melb, 1990)
  • R. Murray and K. White, A Bank for the People (Melb, 1992)
  • Liberal Country Times, 12 Aug 1938, 8 Mar 1940
  • Countryman (Melbourne), 15, 22, 29 Mar 1935, 22 Oct 1937, 14 Apr 1938, 8 Mar, 12 Apr 1940, 5, 19 Feb, 16 Apr 1943
  • J. B. Paul, The Premiership of Sir Albert Dunstan (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1961)
  • private information.

Citation details

B. J. Costar, 'Hocking, Albert Edward (1885–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hocking-albert-edward-10512/text18655, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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